Why it's OK to work on vacation

Homework or work on the beach

(MoneyWatch) I've been on vacation the past week and a half. While some of this time has been spent completely unplugged -- while in Mt. Rainier National Park, for instance -- some has not. I edited a manuscript while my kids watched some movies. I've gotten up early to answer emails.

It's fashionable to lament that working on vacation is a sign of some sort of American epidemic of overwork, and indeed, a recent survey from Pertino, an IT company, finds that I'm not alone. Some 59 percent of us check in on vacation. But I don't think that's as much a problem as we like to think. Here's why:

First, working on vacation means you can take longer vacations. I'm on the road for about two and a half weeks. If I pledged to go completely off the grid during that time, it probably wouldn't happen. But since I'm doing two full work days, and an email check every day or so during that time, it's fine.

Second, getting out of the office lets you work on bigger picture ideas. I've spent some time pondering various book concepts while my family is otherwise occupied.

Third, looking askance at working on vacation implies that work is a bad thing. But many of us these days choose work we really enjoy. Including a bit of fun work on vacation taps into a potential source of happiness.

And finally, even during intense work weeks, you still have some personal time. If you work 60 hours per week, and sleep 8 hours per night (56 per week) that leaves 52 hours for other things. That's quite a bit of time! So why is working 8-10 hours out of a 168-hour (or more, in my case) vacation somehow unbalanced?

The key is making sure that your family is fine with it -- either because they're doing activities they don't care if you're part of (watching bad videos during a rainy beach day), or hanging out with extended family or other people they enjoy. Build it around your family's schedule. Early mornings are great for that. But doing a bit of work on vacation is definitely not the end of the world. Indeed, it can make coming back refreshed possible -- because you're not picturing disaster in your inbox.